Tuesday, February 26, 2013

It is the Birthday of . . .

It's the birthday of the man who said, "To love another person is to see the face of God." French novelist Victor Hugo, born in Besançon, France, on this day in 1802. He also said, "There is one thing stronger than all the armies in the world, and that is an idea whose time has come."

He wrote The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1831) when he was in his twenties and became a celebrity. He used his fame to advocate for political causes he believed in, like denouncing the autocratic regime of Napoleon III. He encouraged French people to rise up and revolt. Napoleon III declared Hugo an enemy of the state, but Hugo managed to flee the country in disguise just before soldiers showed up to arrest him at his home. 

He went to Brussels before landing at Guernsey, an island in the English Channel, where he lived in exile for the next twenty years. There, he wrote at a fast pace. And he wrote standing up, at a pulpit, looking out across the water. He had strict minimums for himself: 100 lines of poetry or 20 pages of prose a day. It was during this time that he wrote his masterpiece, Les Misérables (1865), about a poor Parisian man who steals a loaf of bread, spends 19 years in jail for it, and after his release becomes a successful small businessman and small-town mayor — and then is imprisoned once again for a minor crime in his distant past. The book was a hugely popular, and Hugo returned to Paris, was elected to the Senate of the new Third Republic, and when he died in 1885 at the age of 82, two million people showed up to his funeral, a procession through the streets of Paris.

No comments: